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Postal Service Testing E-Stamps

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RALEIGH — A new idea being tested by the Postal Service could put an end to a sticky situation. As Technology Reporter Tom Lawrence discovered, all you need is a personal computer connected to the Internet and some special software to place the postage on a letter.

The Postal Service is proud of this new technology. PC-generated postage is already being tested using a program called E-Stamp Internet Postage.

Jeff Swisher owns a business that is looking forward to the new technology." If you're working at ten o'clock, eleven o'clock, twelve o'clock at night and if you have stamp systems and you run out of money or out of stamps, well, you're out of business."

With E-Stamp software on your PC, you download the amount of postage you want from the Internet Post Office, then print a special "smart stamp" right on the envelope. The special imprint, called indicia, contains a unique digital signature that allows the Postal Service to detect whether it's been tampered with or copied.

The postal service has worked hard to make electronic postage secure using software and a stamp-sized piece of hardware.

The electronic chip serves as a vault to hold the value of the postage you download. Several companies will sell software and the service. However, some question whether the time is right.

Paul Hamilton of Professional Mail Services says he has a wait-and-see attitude."There are a lot of rollout programs like this that are a couple of years ahead of their time; wonderful ideas but they are ahead of their times."The Postal Service hopes electronic postage will speed delivery and improve convenience. That's something many business people like.

Business owner Rebecca Antonelli says she has clients who would love a product like this."I have clients that do huge amounts of mailing that would love to do something like that from their PC."The Postal Service and E-Stamp Corporation are signing people up to test electronic postage. There's no timetable for when all of us might get the service.